A quick Google search leads me to a blog that lists seven things that get better with age. With wine at number one (obviously), the list also includes sex and designer clothing. Brooklyn born comedian Wil Sylvince would be right at home on that list too. His value as a comedian and performer could be compared to the aforementioned beverage, on the condition that those wines, rather than sitting in a nice, climate-controlled environment, had to hustle damn hard for 18 years to reach the top of their game.
“I started [stand-up comedy] a long time ago, like 1998, but I started taking it seriously in 2004,” recounts Sylvince. “That’s when I started talking about who I am – my life, my travels, my experiences – as opposed to just regular jokes.” This shift in style occurred because “when you write regular jokes you’ve got to be a writer, but when you write about your personal life, it’s already written.”
Laughing, he says that this makes him a “lazy comedian,” but his resume suggests otherwise. “I just have a love for writing. You know, [it] could transform into stand-up, into acting, into writing TV shows, or even writing movies and stuff.” This ‘stuff’ has included Chapelle’s Show on Comedy Central and Damon Wayan’s The Underground, starting the ShortCuts Film Festival to promote racial diversity in cinema, as well as writing, producing and starring in his own short film I Still Have a Soul.
Despite his diverse portfolio of skills, stand-up comedy is where he puts most of his energy. “I like it like you wouldn’t believe. I just love it. I’m not sure if you’ve had this experience… When I first got my first 10 speed [bicycle], I remember the smell of the new bike, the tyres, putting it together because it came in a box and then riding it for the first time. Comedy still feels like the first time, all the time.” It’s a privilege that Sylvince doesn’t take for granted. “I never say ‘ohhh I got this’, I’m always nervous. How can I make it work? I scan the room, and it’s like when you go on a date with a girl for the first time and you’re trying to figure her out. Comedy for me has not gotten old.”
Gigging most nights of the week when he’s in New York, Sylvince will often jump between four different shows to perform, including his regular spot at the famed Comedy Cellar in Manhattan. When he’s not at home, he’s touring the U.S.A. and abroad, doing “whatever [and] whoever books me.” His arrival to Australia this June as a headline act for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow marks the fourth time he’s graced our stages since 2013, when he supported the Wayans Brothers on their national tour.
His previous work has been lauded by sell-out crowds in Australia, despite the fact that much of his material focuses on the dynamics of growing up with West Indian parents in the rough neighbourhood of East New York. “I didn’t think a lot of my Haitian jokes would work. Then one day then I was watching [comedy superstar] Richard Pryor – whom I’m not comparing myself to – tell these stories about black life in front of an all-white room, and he was killing it. I realised it’s just how you tell a story. It’s just got to translate.” It works because “everyone’s got a father and mother, everybody. You have a parent, or a guardian, or you know a character like that.”
The next few months are going to be busy for Sylvince, as he continues to work on a wide variety of creative pursuits, which includes the development of a text messaging application for smartphones. “I’ve got a team, a small team, and now we’re at the point where we need an investor. We have a prototype of the app on the Android, so hopefully we’ll get that out.” He also has to prepare for the 11th edition of his annual film festival ShortCuts, with semi-finals in August in New York, and the finals in October in Los Angeles.
For now though, he’s happy touring Australia’s capital cities and regional centres as part of the Roadshow. “For me, every show is a new show. I’m always in competition with myself – how can I be more funny than I was yesterday. That’s the thing about comedy, it changes so much. Every stage time is a new experience – it’s not like it’s a play where you know the lines and you know the marks on the floor.”
I was lucky enough to see Sylvince perform a guest spot at Lazy Susan’s Comedy Den on Tuesday night. He had the audience eating out of his hand, courtesy of his animated performance and clever local references. From this I can confirm that like a quality, aged bottle of wine, consuming Wil Sylvince’s stand-up is sure to have you feeling very happy and more than a little giggly. I’d recommend enjoying with a few friends on a cool winter’s night at His Majesty’s Theatre.
Words by Nic Monisse
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow will run from 16 – 18 June at His Majesty’s Theatre. Tickets available here.